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19 VARIETIES OF GAZELLE: POEMS OF THE MIDDLE EAST

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 6 months ago

7 June 2002 19 VARIETIES OF GAZELLE: POEMS OF THE MIDDLE EAST by Naomi Shihab Nye, Greenwillow, April 2002

 

"In her first home each book has a light around it.

The voices of distant countries

floated in through open windows,

entering her soup and her mirror.

They slept with her in the same thick bed.

Someday she would go there.

Her voice, among all those voices.

In Iraq a book never had one owner--it had ten.

Lucky books, to be held often

and gently, by so many hands.

Later in American libraries she felt sad

for books no one ever checked out..."--from DUCKS

 

In her preface to this beautiful collection of poetry, Naomi Shihab Nye notes:

 

"September 11, 2001 was not the first hideous day ever in the world, but it was the worst one many Americans had ever lived. May we never see another like it. For people who love the Middle East and have an ongoing devotion to cross-cultural understanding, the day felt sickeningly tragic in more ways than one. A huge shadow had been cast across the lives of so many innocent people and an ancient culture's pride...I dedicate these poems of my life to the wise grandmothers and to the young readers in whom I have always placed my best faith. If grandmothers and children were in charge of the world, there would never be any wars. Peace, friends. Please don't stop believing."

 

I maintain such a sadness within myself from the events of September 11th. As with everyone else, and just like during my childhood with the deaths of King, the Kennedys, and later, Lennon, September 11th is a point in time I will never forget--a day and a week during which I struggled to believe. The damage we've all suffered continues. In a series of extensive interviews at the end of the school year, our graduating eighth-graders seemed consistent in their pessimism about the future.

 

I learned of the horrors of that day when I crawled out of bed, brought up my overnight email, and saw an incomprehensible subject heading on a message from a member of The Undertow, the international message board devoted to New York musician Suzanne Vega. My immediate fears were of blind and massive retaliation and re-retaliation. I spontaneously posted a series of old peace songs from John Lennon, Peter Alsop, Melanie. The rumbling that followed made me feel like I was the pebble on the beach under the impending tidal wave, as demands rained down for retaliation against all enemies--perceived and imagined--including those who weren't waving a flag and shouting for war. 

 

"...There is a language between two

languages

called Mean but who would admit

they are speaking it?

'Let's change places,' the teenagers said.

'For a week, I'll be you and you be me.'

Knowing if they did, they could never fight again.

Listen to them." --from TRENCHES AND MOATS AND MOUNDS OF DIRT

 

Two unforgettable essays appeared on The Undertow that week. One was by a young man in Mexico, the second by a woman in Colorado. Both messages passionately and articulately begged for reason, understanding, and tolerance. Both authors were immediately and viciously blasted as anti-American. Seriously threatened on-list and off-. I made my own fumbling plea for severing the chain of hatred, sent the two authors personal letters of support, and quietly left the list. I wish now that I had their addresses that I might send them copies of this wonderful collection of poetry. 

 

STAIN

She scrubbed as hard as she could with a stone.

Dipping the cloth, twisting the cloth.

She knew the cloth much better than most,

having stitched its vines of delicate birds.

The red, the blue, the purple beaks.

A tiny bird with head held high.

A second bird with fanning wings.

Her fingers felt the folded hem.

The water in her pan was cool.

She stood outside by the lemon tree.

Children chattered around her there.

She told the children, "Take care! Take care!"

What would she think of the world today?

She died when she was one hundred and six.

So many stains would never come out.

She stared at the sky, the darkening rim.

She called to the children, "Come in! Come in!"

She stood on the roof, tears on her face.

What was the thing she never gave up?

The simple love of her difficult place.

 

Because I believe that understanding leads to tolerance, and tolerance leads to peace, it brings me great relief to find a book such as this one to share with my family, my friends, and those students who are struggling in these difficult times. Naomi's fascinating poems are sometimes playful, other times solemn; they are filled with elemental pleasures and spiritual quests; the wisdom of past generations...along with the shards of lives shattered by the failures of generation after generation to just get along. 

 

RED BROCADE

The Arabs used to say

When a stranger appears at your door,

feed him for three days

before asking who he is,

where he's come from,

where he's headed.

That way, he'll have strength enough

to answer.

Or, by then you'll be such good friends

you don't care.

Let's go back to that.

Rice? Pine nuts?

Here, take the red brocade pillow.

My child will serve water

to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!

I was not preparing to be busy.

That's the armor everyone put on

to pretend they had a purpose

in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.

Your plate is waiting.

We will snip fresh mint

into your tea.

 

Richie Partington

http://richiespicks.com

BudNotBuddy@aol.com

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